HelenGym's blog

"Jade Vixen": Media justice and violence against women

Like everyone else here, I'm a frequent reader of philly.com. For the last few days I've been appalled at the coverage of the assault and murder case involving a young Philadelphia woman, who worked as a dominatrix and goes by the code name "Jade Vixen" - and by that I mean the posting of more than a dozen provocative photos of her all over philly.com.

Whatever this young woman's career, she is a victim who survived an unbelievably violent and brutal experience. It's just unconscionable for a rape victim [CORRECTION: media reports specify only that she was the victim of a sexual assault] to be portrayed in this light, and to post photos of her that do nothing more than serve prurient interests.

Whatever happened to the privacy rights often afforded victims of sexual violence? Are any less due to her because of her career? The photos after all preceded her attack and had nothing to do with the assault, right? or does posting them suggest otherwise?

Why Philadelphia can't afford casinos - and neither can PA

With President-elect Obama in town to figure out how to solve the nation’s budget crisis, here’s one suggestion: stop state-sponsored gambling.

There’s no question that this industry - whose proponents once crowed had a "license to print money" - has lost its lustre. With the economy in a tailspin, casinos don’t just drag their own industry down, they bring city budgets and people with them:

Consider:

  • The City of New Haven has to fix a $500,000 budget hole after overly rosy gambling revenue projections didn’t meet their mark this year.
  • In July, the Natl. Conference of State Legislatures reported that specific conditions have dramatically impacted state budgets, noting that Nevada is particularly worried about gambling and its impact on state revenues.
  • Last year's PICA report warned that the city put itself at "financial risk" by not calculating the cost of casinos. They referred to sources which showed a range of costs of up to $200 million annually from gambling and the potential for net job losses based on employment studies from different states with gambling.

Faced with these concerns, what’s been the solution in other states?

More gambling of course – and don’t forget the booze and girls.

  • Twin River, RI is begging for table games to save the bankrupt slots house.
  • Foxwoods itself is seeking 24-hour alcohol service at its Connecticut casino to remain competitive. "You gotta be kidding me," said one local official in outrage.
  • But my favorite story is outta A.C.:

    "On Dec. 13, the casino will host the Running of The Santas, part of a nationwide bar tour in which participants don Santa hats, beards and suits, and do their own version of Pamplona's running of the bulls. Only at the head of this race will be Hooters girls."

    Yep. The running of the bulls only with creepy old men chasing down Hooter girls. Because it sounds fun. And oh yeah, it makes the casino money.

    "The holidays tend to have many businesses competing for customer attention," said Mark Giannantonio, president of the Tropicana Casino and Resort. "The light show, in addition to our decor, shopping, entertainment and focus on our guests throughout the season ... ultimately will give people a reason to choose Tropicana."

There’s always a sucker a minute when it comes to easy cash.

Just listen to Fishtown’s Maggie O’Brien, who commented about the recent inking of a $1.5 million deal between Sugarhouse and a group that formed ad hoc to negotiate a community benefits agreement (since no other established neighborhood association would):

And - be still, fibrillating hearts - up to $1.5 million a year to fund stuff that the community decides could use the dough.

Like a library, maybe? Or a swimming pool? Fire services? All are Fishtown amenities slated for closure.

"With $1.5 million, we could buy the library and run it ourselves," says Maggie O'Brien, president of Fishtown Action (FACT), a pro-casino neighborhood group that has co-signed the CBA (along with the New Kensington CDC). "We could keep the pool and firehouse."

She exhales angrily.

"It didn't have to come to this. If the casino was up and running, we might not be losing anything right now."

Fishtown deserves every bit of concern with all the closures in their community while a slots house tries to open up down the street. But beyond that, there’s nothing in O’Brien’s comments that are backed by economic or historical reality. In fact, an increasing number of studies show that just the opposite may be true – that gambling is a net loser for society rather than a win.

"A Question of Place": An essay on the power of community

With all the news about the library and pool closings and Chinatown’s fight against a Center City slots barn, one thread ties these struggles together – the love of community. These struggles aren’t so much against something as much as they are a powerful statement of the sanctity of sacred spaces in our neighborhoods, of the rare places where the fabric of community is built, where our relationships with one another are fostered and cherished, and where lessons and values are passed onto new generations. Our communities are the heart of civil society.

Recently, Philadelphian Debbie Wei wrote just about the best piece I’ve ever seen on the notion of community and struggle in an essay "A Question of Place" published in Asian Week. Here's an excerpt:

As Philadelphia’s Chinatown fights a proposed casino mere feet from its doorstep, I’ve been thinking a lot these days about why saving Chinatown means so much to me.

Several years ago my youngest son, who studied kung fu and Beijing Opera in Chinatown, told me: "My favorite place to be is Chinatown. I know everyone there. I can walk around and hang out. The guy in the laundromat always gives me candy and everyone knows I’m a lion dancer and the old people all smile at me."

Chinatowns around the country represent an increasingly rare phenomenon. They are communities in the deepest sense: places not only defined by geography but also by memory and relationships. It is why my son would rather buy his candy in Chinatown even though he could get it cheaper at Walmart. When he buys his candy in Chinatown, he knows the clerks, he feels happy to see them and they are happy to see him.

The responsibility that comes with relationships and knowing that there is something bigger than yourself is part of what makes a community live — it is part of what makes us fundamentally human. It isn’t just about a geographic area. It is about emotion, about connection to a place.

It is a deeply moving and personal piece, especially at a time when our struggles seem greatest. As she writes:

"True progress has to do with the human heart and the relationships we build and sustain over time. Our future as a city is not about me and mine, not about rugged individualism, but about collective
responsibility. It’s about what is ours — all of ours.

When you see us in the streets protesting, this is why we fight.

Daily News columnist Ronnie Polaneczy wrote a nice Friday column about this as well. Ronnie was kind enough to reprint Debbie's essay on her blog post. And of course, you can find it at Asian Americans United’s website as well.

Asian Americans United statement on Mayor Nutter's signing casino bill into law

This morning, 24 hours after meeting with representatives from the Chinatown community, Mayor Michael Nutter signed the legislation both re-zoning the Gallery to a gambling district and designating an area from 6th to Broad Streets and Arch to Chesnut Streets as an area where a CED (commercial entertainment district - the name for a zone that permits gambling) may be laid.

Below is Asian Americans United's statement:

Asian Americans United is disappointed but not surprised by the Mayor’s decision.

It has been clear from the start that there has been no intent to engage in an inclusive process that respects the voices of residents and communities. Worse still has been witnessing the dismantling of processes that have been established in our city precisely to protect residents from capricious and self-serving development.

While Council sleeps on zoning, Terry Gillen talks casino deals, Sugarhouse on Market Street

This morning, City Council is expected to pass two bills that will re-zone the Gallery to a gambling district (CED), and re-designate an area from 6th to Broad Streets and Arch to Chestnut Streets as an area where a gambling zone "would be permissible."

For one of the City’s biggest projects, this could likely be the most fast-tracked in history. No plans, no proposals, no studies, and worse no questions. A Saturday Council hearing on November 1st saw up to 1,000 people in the streets, five hours of testimony from 60 speakers, and not a single question or dialogue among Council members before they unanimously voted it out of committee – adding a caveat that the rules would be suspended to set a special Nov. 6th hearing for first reading and that the Nov. 13th hearing would allow both a second reading and a vote on the same day.

City officials are silencing questions and asking Philadelphians to take a wait and see approach. But last month Mayoral advisor Terry Gillen gave a videotaped talk at the Northern Liberties Neighborhood Association that gives troubling insight into the zoning legislation and what really is at stake – and perhaps, most troubling of all, the active role the administration might have as Foxwoods’ potential business partner in the Market East location.

It’s a long meeting (you can see the full video below), so I’ll help break it up for you:

First, the CED legislation is NOT exploratory in nature:

Contrary to city officials claiming that the CED legislation would only allow them to "explore" the Market East site, Gillen speaks candidly that the City and Foxwoods and the PA Gaming Control Board (PGCB) have an understanding that the CED could form the basis for a site license change – a process she said no one had done before and that city officials were "making up." She also implies how premeditated this is because they want things to happen before there's any possibility of the election impacting on the PGCB's make-up.

RDA boots homeless family of 11: Ask the neighbors"what they think"

Brought to my attention by Ben Waxman:

This is pretty hard to stomach:

"They gave me the house for a dollar," Frances Preston said, sitting at the dining-room table with some of the 10 other family members who live with her in the six-bedroom rowhouse.

According to extensive news coverage at the time, former Mayor John Street took pity on the family and intervened to rescue them from homelessness.

But now they're facing it all over again. Because Preston, recently received a certified letter from the Redevelopment Authority notifying her she was being evicted, effective Dec. 31.

It said the lease was not being renewed. But she's never paid rent and said she was only given a temporary lease when she moved in until the deed was transferred.

Apparently, it never was.

"I don't have anywhere to go," said Preston, tears streaming down her face. RDA chief Terry Gillen said the family has been living in the house illegally.

"No one sold them the house. No one gave it to them," Gillen said.

"They've been staying in a house they don't own for five years."

Yes, we did.

For me, at least, there are few words right now. And when there are no words, my 5-year-old always recommends that we just sing:

November 1: Talking casinos between Obama and the Phillies

Tomorrow City Council is holding a public hearing at 10 a.m. at City Hall on whether to re-zone the Gallery to permit gambling in the heart of Philadelphia.

Here’s a PSA about what’s at stake.

What’s interesting about this re-zoning, is that the broader area being discussed in the bill is actually 6th to Broad and Chestnut to Arch. This is the area that is defined as amenable to taking a CED (Commercial Entertainment District), which is the zoning specifically designed to permit gambling.

Let's repeat that again: A 16-square block area covering 6th to Broad Streets, Chestnut to Arch Streets. Take a look at that area here.

What’s it mean? Who knows?

After all, it’s our Mayor himself who said:

"I don't have anything on the back of a napkin to show what this would look like."

At a Society Hill forum earlier this week, Planning Commissioner Andy Altman denied that there was any intent to put a gambling strip on Market East, saying that the zoning process would protect that from happening. But in the same breath, he disregarded that same zoning process and said it was essential to forfeit zoning privileges in order to "get a process started" for Foxwoods. As residents pointed out to him after the forum, how do you say zoning doesn’t matter in one case, but it’s an essential protection in another?

So tomorrow, we’ll be headed to City Council to say slow up this process. A rush job after all feels like a hack job. Everyone knows you plan first and zone later. Doing otherwise raises eyebrows.

And in between the Phillies celebration and before canvassing for the most important election of our time, I'm inviting you to join hundreds of citizens for an hour or two Saturday morning to march from Chinatown to City Hall. We’re marching for neighborhoods and a better vision for Philadelphia, and we’re marching to make Philadelphia’s political process as worthy as its World Series title and as the deliverer of the PA electoral vote.

Saturday, November 1st
9 a.m. gathering
Chinatown gate: 10th & Arch Sts.

I’ll leave the last words on the significance of this hearing for Chinatown’s Debbie Wei.

Convention Center politics: Xenophobia = Higher Taxes

So since the Phillies got rained out, and I’m bitter that they didn’t call the game before Tampa tied, or at least at the bottom of the 5th, I’m bringing up last week’s story about City Council’s decision to raise the hotel tax. The tax will raise $6.3 million a year, of which $2.3 million will go towards funding the massive deficit incurred by the Convention Center expansion (already costing us nearly $800 million).

Nevertheless, it seems like a good time to remind hotelees that the reason for higher taxes is partly because of this past summer’s decision by the Convention Center board to pass on a virtually interest-free loan on tens of millions of dollars because it came from Chinese investors who were part of a federal program to promote jobs (10 new jobs must be created for every $500,000 invested) and provide legal green cards for investors. Ray pointed it out in a YPP post here.

Here’s the nuanced explanation from Convention Center board chair “Buck” Riley:

"We considered it. We looked at it. But it was kind of a bridge too far . . . too complex for us to consider," Buck Riley, chairman of the 15-member Convention Center Authority, said last week. "Right now, it is a dead issue."

Right. Too complex. You’re broke. 2.5% interest. $73.5 million. Job creation. A 20-year old program vetted and used by the feds to promote investment and employment. But don't let that stop the CC Board from freaking out about potentially being tied to legal immigration and deciding that raising taxes for chump change makes more sense instead.

Wall Street bailout; Philly kids to go hungry?

It’s almost impossible to believe but this week the USDA announced that it planned to terminate a model school nutrition program for thousands of Philadelphia children.

The program’s elimination comes apparently because of its success and the request of other cities to have similar programs. The universal feeding program offers free breakfast and lunch to every child at a school where there is an overwhelming number of children and families in poverty (above 75%) – currently, that’s 202 public schools and 9 charter schools.

According to documents obtained by The Inquirer, the so-called Universal Feeding Program will no longer exist beginning in the 2010 school year.

The change would affect about 121,000 students getting free and reduced-price school meals. It also could cost the district $800,000 annually, and perhaps millions more.

"The implications of eliminating the Universal Feeding Program within the school district will have devastating . . . impacts," according to a written appeal sent last month by the state Department of Education to the USDA.

Written by Vonda Fekete, the department's director of child-nutrition programs, the appeal added that the termination would hurt "the children who depend upon the school district as the source, and sometimes the only source, of one of the basic necessities of life, which is food."

DiCicco on casinos: "My fighting days are over."

Following last week's heated Chinatown town meeting, Councilman Frank DiCicco's office immediately fired off a mass email complaining that information he wanted to share "got lost" at the meeting.

At this week’s Washington Square West meeting, there was plenty of space for the Councilman to share his deeply divided view of neighborhood priorities.

The last question of the day came from a Chinatown resident, a college student, who after restating the opposition in Chinatown asked DiCicco this:

"And my question is . . . if Washington Square West and Chinatown and other neighborhood organizations are opposing the casino, if you would join us in fighting against the casino placement?"

And this is what he had to say:

"I have been fighting the placement of casinos almost four years? three and a half, four years now. But I have learned, and I think most of us have learned, as I was trying to, I tried a couple of times tonight to articulate . . . I look at this from the opinion that we’re gonna have two casinos in the city of Philadelphia. I said that in my opening statement. And at some point a decision will be made whether it’s by me or this administration or someone else. The Supreme Court of PA will ultimately make that decision. So if Foxwoods tonight decided that there’s a third location that they would like to do some due diligence on – I doubt that very much – but if they were, all those sites are in play.

So when you ask me will I fight? If you want me not to introduce CED legislation on Thursday and you want me to stand outside with picket lines and do all the things . . . I did for the last three and a half years, honestly, it’s not going to make a difference in the end.

And a note from our schools . . . .

Today's Inky has a story about new School District CEO Arlene Ackerman's recent hires:

New Philadelphia schools chief Arlene Ackerman has surrounded herself with a diverse inner circle of educators picked from far and wide, shaking up a historically inbred district with fresh faces.

The 14 people Ackerman has tapped are seven women and seven men, most with classroom experience. They include a former Army colonel and a handful of ex-principals.

They come from around the country - New York, Detroit, Louisiana, Arizona, California.

Most are her former doctoral students from Columbia University or graduates of prestigious national programs she's attended herself.

"I am trying to put together a team, and I do get to pick my team," Ackerman said in an interview. "I'm bringing together a team that can work toward the vision we have for this school system."

A couple of clarifications to the Inky story:

  • The Inky may be jumping the gun in saying that Dr. Ackerman's team is smaller than Vallas'. The Inky list doesn't include, for example, at least two new positions created with existing district personnel. At the very least before making such a claim, the Inky ought to have looked at a full list of new hires and compared them with what we knew from Vallas' time.
  • While Dr. Ackerman is entitled to her team, the Inky could have pointed out that new hires were made without a search. People are still jittery and wary of the district's lack of transparency, and a search could have alleviated some fears about whether we're getting the best candidates for the position.
  • Parents United specifically raised questions about the four special assistants, four new positions that earn $92,500, $90,000, $85,000 and $65,000 apiece.

Any thoughts?

Lipstick on a pig: casino design and process

Last week, the Inky reported on a secretive meeting between the Governor, Mayor and Sugarhouse developer Neil Bluhm as Sugarhouse angled to gain the Mayor’s approval for its waterfront site. Bluhm offered to change the proposed big box design to curry the Mayor’s favor.

Nutter seemed non-committal, but two things stand out.

First, what’s up with all the secretive meetings? The decision to move Foxwoods to the Gallery and smack in the heart of Chinatown happened at a closed door August 21st meeting between the Governor, Mayor and Foxwoods. Now comes the news that the Governor, Mayor and Sugarhouse met in hotel corridors at the DNC in Denver to conduct side business.

In an interesting choice of words, the Governor’s spokesperson denied such a meeting as "nefarious." State Rep. Mike O’Brien had a different point of view:

O'Brien said the secretive nature of the meeting "doesn't build confidence" with the public and those who had complained about the process of selecting casino sites.

"The people were promised an open and transparent process," O'Brien said. "They deserve nothing less."

Environmental racism, Chinatown and the Gallery casino

Gambling and gambling addiction in Asian communities is a well-known problem. Jennifer Lin’s Inquirer story today shows just how severe it is. Among the stunning statistics:

  • A survey of southeast Asian refugees in Connecticut (where statewide they only have two casinos), found that 59% were pathological gamblers.
  • In Atlantic City, an estimated 15-20% of revenues come from Asian gamblers.
  • A national study found that Asians had a prevalence of pathological gambling three times higher than whites.

Studies in general on Asian particularly Asian immigrant mental health problems are limited by the lack of bilingual and culturally responsive outreach. But for people on the ground level the concern about gambling addiction is overwhelming. The few doctors and family health counselors who work in Asian immigrant communities all point to gambling addiction as a major problem in Asian immigrant communities. But even more relevant is the lack of available help for immigrant gambling addicts.

Access to help already is a problem for Asians who don't speak English.

"Treatment of gambling addiction that is culturally competent is nonexistent in Philadelphia," said Philip Siu, founder of Chinatown Medical Services, the city's largest community health center for Asians.

Gamblers Anonymous, the best-known self-help group for compulsive gamblers, does not offer local meetings in Asian languages. The state-supported Council on Compulsive Gambling of Pennsylvania hands out printed information on how to get help, but not in Asian languages.

Last week, I and one of the leaders of the Chinatown community went door to door to businesses to do a sample survey of their feelings about the casino. We found that more than 80% of businesses oppose the proposed casino or needed more information (this latter group was less than 10% of respondents). The number one concern cited, even by those who supported a casino, was the concern about gambling and gambling addiction. It wasn’t a generic fear of gambling. It was literally: I am afraid my husband, or my mother, or my children will be at the casino.

So what does that mean for the city? In our meeting with city officials, most professed that they had no knowledge that gambling was any greater a problem in Chinatown than in other communities. We’re willing to give them that. But now that concrete evidence indicates that not only could there be a serious problem, but that the city and state centers are poorly equipped to handle such a problem, what does it mean for the city to go ahead and continue to place the casino next to such a vulnerable community?

For many people in the community, this is what environmental racism looks like. It’s not only that a tiny residential community has endured 30 years of urban renewal projects that have taken away half the land and destroyed a third of the housing. It’s not just that there’s a lack of investment in the community – Chinatown despite being one of Philly’s oldest immigrant neighborhoods still lacks a public library, health clinic, rec center, or neighborhood public school.

Environmental racism also raises its head when there’s evidence of mental health problems and lack of infrastructure to address such problems, but all we get is a social worker or Foxwoods-sponsored counseling program or some translated brochures about gambling addiction. That just doesn’t cut it.

There are lots of things wrong with this site, but dismissing Chinatown’s anguish over the sufferings of its own people is not only cruel, it’s environmental racism at its clearest.

Another Shenandoah Hate Crime and what it means for PA’s Anti-Immigrant Politics

On the heels of the brutal murder of Luis Ramirez, comes yet another Shenandoah hate crime:

On Friday, Javier Alcala Jr., 21, allegedly was abducted and beaten by three men who duct-taped and blindfolded him.

This follows the July 12 killing of Luis Eduardo Ramirez Zavala, 25, an illegal immigrant who had been living in the U.S. for six years. He allegedly was pummeled near a local park after a confrontation with at least four teenage boys.

It’s almost impossible to believe that the murder of Luis Ramirez wouldn’t have functioned as a wake-up call. Instead, it emboldened some people in this town to dig in on behalf of bigotry, anti-immigrant and anti-Latino rhetoric, and violence.

On a recent Saturday, the Babe Ruth League field around the bend from the Mrs. T's Pierogies factory was crowded with people waving Old Glory, surrounded by their families and dogs.

The sun was still out, but mosquitoes were circling. Some folks carried placards - "Gallon of Gas: $3.69, Purchase of a Gun: $419, Deportation: Priceless," - that hinted at the turmoil that has simmered and occasionally boiled over since Ramirez's death.

Midway through the anti-illegal-immigrant rally, Crystal Dillman, who had been Ramirez's fiancee, arrived with her sister and some friends. The women, all of whom are white, unfurled a large Mexican flag.

"I'm here to support the cause; I'm here to support my husband," said Dillman, a Shenandoah native, quickly amending her statement to say "fiancee."

When some in the crowd noticed them and the flag, they shouted: "Why don't you go to Mexico?" and "Go home, Crystal!"

But the mother of three held her ground. "I'm not going nowhere," she said. "Let them say what whatever they want."

The trash-talk continued: "Wetback kids!" was directed toward Dillman's group. Her sister Lita responded joyfully with her arms raised in obscene gestures.

The tension escalated until state troopers stepped in, standing as a barrier around the Mexican flag until the crowd dispersed.

Note to reporter: I wouldn’t call a placard linking a gun reference to deportation following the murder of an innocent man a hint at turmoil nor would I call a mob surrounding a group of women and hurling ethnic slurs "trash-talk". It’s a little more serious than that.)

How is it possible that one hate crime could follow so closely to another – especially one that has received such nationwide attention?

Maybe it’s because Pennsylvania refuses to acknowledge or hold accountable bigotry engrained into the political fiber of the state.

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